Workers must get organised to resist new attacks!
The following statement by Gauche révolutionnaire (CWI France) looks at the first round of the French presidential elections and prospects for the second round run-off. It also looks at how the Left can develop its support against a possible Sarkozy or Royal cuts-making presidency, including taking initiatives to build a new anti-capitalist, militant socialist party with mass working class support.
Sarkozy is at the service of the rich and the bosses, Royal presidency will also mean new cuts
The presidential election campaign showed us that the main stream politicians are two-faced. On the one hand, they are all for change, on the other hand, they are all in favour of maintaining capitalism and all that it leads to: unemployment, poverty and exploitation. Playing this game, it is logic that Sarkozy leads the polls. Faced with his threatening candidate, we have to organise to struggle. The question is on what programme?
In the first round of this presidential election, 2 million people voted for candidates on a clear anti-capitalist program (Olivier Besancenot and Arlette Aguiller). Also, many votes that went to Buffet and Bové were also inspired by a rejection of the economic system and the injustices that it breeds. These two millions votes, at a time when the desire to stop Sarkozy led many people to vote tactically, are for us the confirmation that, today, a potential exists for a new organisation; a new party that actually defends youth and workers, that allows youth and workers to organise themselves to confront the policies of capitalism.
Sarkozy builds on lies and provocation
Sarkozy had some advantages over the other candidates in the first round of this campaign: the majority of the media outlets are at his service, the big corporations support him. But most of all, he has had to face political criticism based on form and not on content. Royal and Bayrou did not oppose Sarkozy’s policies on their economic content but only on their outward appearance. Sarkozy’s victory in the first round is partly because of his use of racist provocation and use of ‘law and order’ issues (which have allowed him to seduce part of the electorate of Le Pen) but it is also because of certain clarity in his economic and social proposals. With the capitalist economy in crisis, and the lack of a credible alternative, Sarkozy’s idea of "every man for himself" gets a certain echo.
In the last couple of years, we have seen a speeding up of the competition between the most developed economies on a world scale. Introducing the world to more instability, of which the US-led occupation of Iraq is a concrete example, the workers were made to pay the bill for this accelerated competition. This led to a race to the bottom, accompanied by privatisations and the ending of the right to work. In Europe, it is the European Union that coordinated these policies and promoted privatisations or ongoing privatisations in sectors like the postal services, education or energy.
Obviously, Sarkozy is in favour of continuing these policies. But his slogans, like "work harder to earn more" are getting an echo. Evidently, this slogan is a lie. Worker today produce more than 20 years ago because of new production techniques and technology. A worker has to labours more than he used to. Furthermore, because of a general rise in redundancies and the suppression of jobs, the individual workload has risen, as well. At the same time salaries have fallen. The measures that are proposed by Sarkozy will aggravate this situation. For example, the proposal that bosses will no longer pay the same rate for overtime than for normal working hours. Instead of creating employment, this will lead to a situation where bosses will not engage new workers but demand the existing workforce work longer hours. The working conditions are such that, during the election campaign, in several workplaces (in Renault, Peugeot, EDF…) workers, worn out by the labour imposed upon them committed suicide.
In 2006, the largest 40 French multinationals made 96 billion euros of profit, while the wages and the conditions of work deteriorated.
The whole of Sarkozy’s policies go in the same direction. His demagogic proposals are used to hide the reality that his policies will only work for the rich and for the bosses. 96% of the members of the two main employers’ organisations (CGPME and Medef) voted for him!
Royal – an alternative?
All the forces which have participated in governments over the last years pursued policies of privatisation and attacks on the rights of workers; be it under the government of the ‘plural left’ (gauche plurielle) of Jospin, with the ex-social democratic Socialist Party (PS), the Communist Party (PCF) and the Greens, or with the different right wing coalitions made up of the Union for a Popular Majority (UMP) and/or the Union for French Democracy (UDF). Our daily lives were determined by privatisations, a degradation of our work and living conditions and more low wages.
After 25 years of disappointment with the centre-left in government, the majority of the workers do not believe, anymore, its promises. But as there is no new party that could replace the former traditional parties, many people again voted for them to either stop Sarkozy or because Royal seemed ‘a lesser evil’. This confusion even benefited Bayrou, who was seen as an anti-Sarkozy candidate, although he did not have an economic programme radically different from Sarkozy. Not one of the three main presidential candidates spoke out against 10,000 workers made redundant at the Airbus company. These workers were the victims of one thing: the rapaciousness of shareholders and the financial groups. Only the nationalisation of Airbus, under workers’ control, can stop this financial rapaciousness. But this demand was only raised by organisations that are really anti-capitalist.
In these conditions, the PS (French Socialist Party) and its allies appear hardly credible. They do not propose a break with capitalism. They are even willing to continue with the policies that Prime Minister Villepin and Sarkozy implemented. On pensions, public services, etc., in essence Royal is not proposing anything different. Her policy is also a neo-liberal policy, albeit more nuanced and less harsh than Sarkozy’s. But, nevertheless, still at the service of the bosses and shareholders.
The few measures that have been proposed by Royal, and that can appear to be positive, should not allow us to forget the same happened when Jospin, another PS leader, became prime minister. He went on to privatise more than the two right-wing governments before him. And the 35-hour week has been a measure to attack working conditions, allowing bosses to install more ‘flexibility’ and, in some cases, freezing of wages. These policies lead to the electoral result of 2002 [which saw right wing Chirac elected]. Illusions in the policies of Royal can lead to a repeat of this sort of situation. Even if Le Pen received less votes now, than in 2002, it does not mean he has disappeared.
Vote Royal to stop Sarkozy?
The aggressive, almost dictatorial, aspect of Sarkozy; his racist provocations, his stance on law and order, can frighten. As a reaction, many people voted Royal to stop Sarkozy. We can understand this. If it was a tactical vote, a vote only to stop Sarkozy to become president, the question would be who do we vote for? But a vote for Royal as a real alternative is an illusion. The manner in which Sarkozy will carry out his policies represent the worst aspect of French capitalism. But, in essence, his policies, for example economic policies, are very similar to Royal’s.
So, is a vote for Royal a way to stop Sarkozy and his policies? When Sarkozy wins the second round, it could lead to a certain demoralisation, and even anger, in the poor city suburbs. But Sarkozy is a representative of capitalist policy, and everything is by no means decided in just one election; ultimately how things develop depends on the capacity of youth and workers to struggle. The most important thing is to start organising against Sarkozy’s capitalist policies and to prepare a fight back.
We need a new party of struggle!
We were in favour of a united anti-capitalist candidature. This would have been a powerful opposition to Sarkozy, to show the possibility of an alternative to capitalism. When it appeared that such a candidate was not possible, we called to vote for either of the anti-capitalist candidates Besancenot, candidate for the LCR (Revolutionary Communist League) or Laguiller, candidate for LO (Workers’ struggle). Besancenot
Succeeded in winning over many of those that wanted to vote for an anti-capitalist candidate and be independent from the PS. Even though he appeared more "youthful", that Besancenot got less votes than Arlette Laguiller, in 2002. At that time, Besancenot’s profile attracted people who wanted to "punish" the plural left or put pressure on the plural left. While Laguiller appeared more as a candidate who was prepared to break with capitalism. But the position of Arlette Laguiller on the evening of Sunday 21 April 2002, election night, ("I will not call for a vote for Chirac" and her later clarification that she meant "neither Chirac nor Le Pen", her refusal to call for mass mobilisations against Le Pen, while it was possible to do this without sanctioning a vote for Chirac etc) created real confusion. On top of that, the workers have given Arlette Laguiller support but this was not translated into any initiative by LO.
Even the many votes for Buffet (PCF) and Bové are, to an important extent, anti-capitalist votes. But the PCF or Bové appeared throughout the campaign as candidates who were looking to put pressure on the PS. As a result, many voters preferred to vote for Royal directly. And the latest rapprochement, between Bové and the PS, and the systematic alliance between the PCF (Communist Party) and the PS, undermined the credibility of these two formations. How can they call themselves anti-liberal or anti-capitalist when, in the end, they take endorse liberal policies, as is the case with most of the elected representatives of the PCF and the Bové movement?
Nevertheless, the question will be asked, what can the LCR will do with the good result obtained by its candidate Besancenot. The LCR could very easily hold public meetings in every town to discuss, with workers and youth, the possibility to organise a new anti-capitalist party. If this happened, we would participate. But if this does not happen, the LCR risks making the same mistake as the LO made these last years. Many workers and youth want a new party. It is only with such an instrument that we can effectively "prepare struggle". Such a party would allow us to collectively discuss a strategy for struggle, how to unite and to unify our demands.
From today onwards, faced with the threat of Sarkozy, faced with the capitalist policies which will be put in place by whoever forms the next government, we have to organise. Gauche révolutionnaire (CWI France) fights for a world rid of the cause of our problems, capitalism. Social misery, unemployment, bad working and life conditions are caused by capitalism and its law of profit. It is this system we have to bring down and replace with a democratic socialist society, where the economy will be managed by workers for the satisfaction of everyone’s needs and not the profits of a few. This perspective, of genuine socialism, which has nothing to do with the PS or with Stalinism, is what we defend. For a world without war, misery, racism, exploitation: join us!
Two million votes for the LCR and the LO – What is to be done?
About two million workers and youth voted for anti-capitalist candidates Olivier Besancenot and Arlette Laguiller. This shows the rejection of capitalist policies that offer nothing but unemployment, redundancies, poverty and misery. In spite of the pressure to vote "useful" for Ségolène Royal, these two million votes are the expression that many workers and youth want neither the ultra-liberal policies of Sarkozy nor the policies of guiding through liberal measures by Royal.
To the left of the PS, it was only the LCR that achieved a good result, with 4.08% of the votes (about 1.5 million votes). Because of the dynamic campaign of Olivier Besancenot, who made the link between capitalist attacks and the necessary struggles of the workers, the LCR become the leading party to the left of the PS. The LCR got a good vote, especially in working class towns and in the big districts of big cities where they got between 5% and 10% of the vote. The interest in the Besancenot campaign, the attendance at his meetings (double the size in 2002) and his good electoral score, show the potential that exists for the creation of a new workers’ and youth party with a fighting anti-capitalist programme.
Initiatives for a new workers’ party?
During the election campaign, the LCR did not stress the need to build such a party capable of assembling combative workers and youth, and struggling against capitalist attacks, whatever government will be elected tomorrow. We do not think this was correct. On election night, Besancenot and Arlette Laguiller rushed to calling for a vote for Royal in the second round (or called to defeat Sarkozy) without explaining how we could fight capitalist policies, or how thousands of workers could organise themselves to take the first steps towards the creation of a new mass party. This eagerness by the LO and LCR to call for a vote for Royal is problematic because it limits the discussion around the second round and does not allow space to discuss what workers’ need, beyond the election. Moreover, many workers who will vote for Royal in the second round, to block Sarkozy risk getting disheartened if Sarkozy nevertheless wins. Particularly so, when they do not have a party or a programme to fight Sarkozy’s policies.
In this context, the appeal of the LCR for a third round of social struggle or the appeal of Arlette Laguiller to regroup on the road of struggle, are not sufficient. To prepare and engage in massive and victorious struggles against the policies that serve capitalism, we need an instrument, a new party that can regroup thousands of workers in different sectors, together with youth. This party will permit them to have a collective discussion about strategy, demands and, more generally, about how to build a joint struggle and an alternative to capitalism.
In his declaration for 22 April, Besancenot concluded: "The LCR proposes to jointly construct this new force [a new anti-capitalist force] capable of fighting capitalism and to offer hope that another world is possible". Will concrete steps be given to this proposal? Why not organise a series of meetings and debates about a new party aimed at workers and youth? Gauche révolutionnaire (CWI) is favour of such an approach and is ready to mobilise for such meetings.
For the moment, the LCR is not reaching beyond the cadre of forces that exist (who were, by the way, not capable of constructing a united candidate of the radical left for the elections). They are not looking to include new layers of non-organised workers and youth – for example, all those who have voted for Besancenot and Laguiller – in the process to construct a new party. Yet this would correspond to the expectations of many amongst this electorate who are looking towards a real alternative to the liberal policies and the capitalist system.
The programmatic weaknesses of the LCR and LO
The fact that workers and youth still do not have a party at their service, a combative force to defend themselves against Sarkozy and the bosses, is due to missed changes in previous years. LCR and LO have, on different occasions, been in a position to advance towards the creation of such a party. Taking into account the attitude of these two organisations it is safe to say that this electoral campaign could end with a real advance for the workers. While LO and LCR declare themselves to be Trotskyist and Marxist organisations, the task of Marxists is to contribute to heighten the level of political consciousness of the workers, to contribute at the level of the political programme, and to propose concrete steps to allow workers to organise massively in opposition to the pro-capitalist parties, independently from the capitalist ruling class.
The construction of a new party is of vital importance for the working class, which will allow us to discuss demands in more general terms but also socialist ideas. It is this central element, central for the working class as it is for Marxists, which is lacking in the programme of these two organisations. The LCR only vaguely mentions the construction of a new anti-capitalist force, without anything more, and LO never speaks about it.
What is more, the programme (‘urgency measures’) put forward by the LCR and LO in the election campaign are very weak. The LCR would want to create a law that prohibits redundancies and "a program to defend workers" Arlette Laguiller explains: "I set out this program, that has nothing revolutionary in the sense that it does not put forward the expropriation of capital, nor the transformation of private property of the big companies into collective property, in state property".
However, it is crucial to develop demands, like "nationalisation under workers’ control of companies that are making redundancies", that pose the question who has to control and manage the economy and, equally, put the revolutionary transformation of society on the agenda.
In future struggles, workers and the youth have to create their own instrument, a new party that will be capable of leading victorious struggles against capitalist politicians, like Sarkozy, as well as for vital demands like, "a minimum wage of 1500 euro net" and "employment for all".
Such a party needs to have a genuine anti-capitalist programme that really challenges the economic and political power of the capitalists, which works towards the overthrow of capitalism and for the construction of a new society: socialism. Gauche révolutionnaire will be part of constructing this party and will support any initiative that goes in that direction.